Friday, September 10, 2010

Please hold

Nothing like seeing an old picture of yourself to serve up a big plateful of truth. You might thing I'm talking about aging, and I've certainly had my share of those moments--wait, I DID once have a waist, and other favorites--but no, I'm talking about delayed gratification. We went on vacation this summer to the beach near my sister's home. While we were there, we spent a day at her place. I wandered through her house, looking at pictures of us together from 7 or 8 years ago. And then, it hit me. The clothes. I had packed light for our weeklong trip since the kids had oodles of things they wanted to bring and we were driving. I had brought only 4 shirts. I was wearing 3 of them in the pictures on my sister's table. I suddenly realized: I HAVEN'T BOUGHT ALMOST ANY NEW CLOTHES IN 8 YEARS (maternity clothes excluded).

Now at least part of the reason is that I hate to shop. For anything. Truly hate it. I think clothes are fine, and occasionally I have been known to fall in love with an article of clothing, but I just cannot bear shopping, especially for clothing. Maybe it's the unforgiving dressing room lights. Maybe it's the chafing of taking on and off 2 dozen dresses. Maybe it's frugality, knowing that I will one day fall out of love with whatever I just spent that money on and will regret that I ever bought it. I don't like it much better online than in person, so maybe it's all sorts of things. As I looked at the pictures, I told myself, it's just that you don't like to shop. But here's the big plateful of truth that I grazed on as I drove home to our beach house that evening: I have come to think of delayed gratification as a way of life rather than part of life.

I think this problem began when I was a medical student. After 22 years of living largely in the moment, I was suddenly having to wait to satisfy even the most basic needs. Need to go exercise? Big exam in 48 hours, I probably should focus on that and exercise this weekend. Need to pee? Well, unfortunately I'm on the far end of a retractor in an abdomen, so I'll just hold it for about oh, 4 more hours. It only got worse as a resident. Need to eat? Oh, I have to pre-round, I'll just wait until lunch. Need to rest? Oh, 3 more admissions for in the ER, I'll sleep when I get home 30 hours (this was pre-work hour restrictions). Want to go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas? Oh, I'm on call for Thanksgiving and taking every other night over Christmas, maybe next year. And on and on.

And then came kids. Suddenly there was a whole new set of things to postpone and a whole new set of reasons for the delayed gratification. I gave birth to 3 children in rapid succession, which meant that I was pregnant or nursing or pregnant AND nursing for literally almost 7 years. Want to get back in shape (not getting back to the original number on the scale, which has never been a problem for me fortunately, but REALLY back in in NOT looking like a mom)? Why bother? Hardly worth busting my butt for 6 months to get sixpack abs only to stretch everything out all over again a few months later. I'll wait. How about new carpet? Well, the toddler is potty-training. And the baby spits up milk every time she is vertical and sometimes when she's not. We'll do it in a few years once the kids are older. Maybe a nice bra purchased this decade? Oh, I'm nursing, so I'll just stick with this worn out one that I can pull down to nurse or pump and wait to get something pretty until I'm done and know what size I will end up. Ok, well, you can at least have some lunch. Hungry? Yep, starving, I'll eat in a minute...right after I nurse the baby and put her down for a nap, unload the dishwasher, switch the laundry to the dryer...

I have come to the conclusion that medical careers and mothering represent the perfect storm for training women to put off their own needs and desires eternally. Are you living in a state of delayed gratification? Is it necessity? Or habit? And if you're not, please tell the rest of us your secret!


  1. Yes! This is my whole life! In some ways, I think that it is a good thing. In other ways, like the ways you described, not so much. For us, it has been, well, once we're done paying for medical school, and then when we're finished with residency and actually making some decent income. We've postponed so much, we think it's completely normal.

  2. I'm with Tempeh and Katherine. This is my life too. I constantly delay gratification, and I *hate* shopping. It's even worse now that I have 3 boys. We go shopping and the oldest two run around like banshees while the youngest whines that he wants to go home over and over.

    So, I'd say putting off desires is both necessity and delayed gratification.

    But by now, 7 years later, it's a habit.

  3. No. I don't feel this way at all. Maybe this is because I don't have kids... but honestly medical school (and this PhD thing) were what I wanted to do with my life, and I've found the process so far to be very laborious, and sometimes unpleasant, but also intensely gratifying.

  4. Also, I hate shopping, and my idea of fun is to do data analysis on a Friday night, so I recognize that I might not be entirely normal. ;-)

  5. I'm not yet a physician but I am a mother. And I think that alone as well as being a pre-med student who works and goes to school full time, I just tend to put everyone else first and myself later. I don't mind shopping, I just hate spending the money on something.

  6. After decades of delayed gratification throughout Undergrad, Med school, residency, the first few years of career and little kids I changed my thinking to "I've worked hard and I deserve nice things before I'm dead".

    Shopping Tips:

    1) I go clothes shopping for at least 1/2 a day in any city in which I attend a conference. New town, new shops, no kids, more likely to splurge a little.

    2) I have scouted out a few fave shops in my hometown and have emails notifying me of their big sales. I attend these once or twice a year. I'm more likely to buy items because they're a good deal and I'm only indulging once or twice a year.

    3) I got rid of unreasonable expectations like the dream home and the perfect couch. If big items last 5 years I'm happy. Longer than that and it's icing on the cake.

  7. How's this... I confess I didn't even know what the term "maxi dress" in MWAS's SIWK post on 9/9/10. But I don't hate shopping. Just hard to find adequate time and locale.

  8. A cautionary tale from this mother in medicine.
    I am on the road to recovery and thanking my lucky stars after soldiering on with abdo pain, fever and rigors for a day, rigors were at 1am and I didn't want to wake my kids, abdo pain was everywhere and then acute and severe Left upper I wasn't too sure what it could be... 2 days later I had theatre to remove my retrocaecal perforated, gangrenous appendix and wash out the mess in my belly...

    A dramatic wake up call about putting my needs first.
    I have never thought about the double whammy you describe, instead thinking about motherhood and medicine and their challenges separately, but you are so right,

    Doctors are fairly rubbish at putting themselves first and it is something that is encouraged, I remember just before graduation getting a survival guide for internship which included "Do not call in sick unless your GCS is less than 10, it puts too much pressure on your colleagues"....

    And mothers are notorious for it.

    So..please don't wait for the drama
    Without a stroke of luck on my side and a young, strong immune system my babies could have been without a mummy,

    I am now going through the process of trying to change the very ingrained habit of prioritising others needs at all times and put myself on the map.

  9. I think you simply don't like to shop. No deep meaning.

    I hate shopping. I purchase most of my clothing on-line and order items I particularly like in several colors.

    Consider: you find time to blog. If you have time to sit at a computer and blog, you have time to shop... if you really want to.

  10. Oh! Bekkles, that happened to my partner a couple of years ago. She complained of stomach pain. I said maybe gas or and ulcer. She went in the ER that night with a ruptured appendix. I told her if she ever complained to me of pain again I was taking her to the ER. She hasn't since.

    Doctors, mothers - can't call in sick. Doctors or mothers. Doctors and mothers. Combined the guilt exacerbates.

    I don't know what a maxi dress is, either.

    And I don't love shopping. I have to be in the mood, which happens once or twice a year, and if the first two things don't look right it ruins the whole experience. I am finally starting to cash in on delayed gratification, this year. I'd rather spend my spare change on a monthly massage or a new book (or a bunch of new books) than a new purse (been carrying same one for 7 years). I'm planning a fabulous CME trip in February - one of those where the meeting only lasts 1/2 day so you can have fun and still charge to CME account. My secret? Getting to a place in life where I have time and money to do the things I want to do. Finally. And I'm only 37!

  11. I can only assume a maxi dress must be really big...

  12. Gals, you don't have the market cornered on putting yourself last and everyone else ahead. I know many mothers who haven't had a hot meal in years, or eaten standing up because they are hopping around taking care of what everyone needs. I can name several who haven't had one stitch of new clothing. They buy only for the kids. They might be able to squeeze out enough for something for themselves but they always know that the kids will need a thing here or that for school, so they don't. These mom take care of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters and they work and go to school and have children. All mothers, from all walks of life (well the good ones) share this same trait.

  13. I understand this in some ways, like I always finish my food first at a restaurant because I am sure that someone is going to need something and then I won't GET to eat (I eat like this even when the kids aren't around!), but I also feel like pursuing medicine IS something that I'm doing for myself...a really huge thing at that!

  14. My secret is my non medical husband. "Do it now or you won't do it." "It looks great on you and we are not coming back here later." "I donated all your worn out stuff to goodwill. Let's go shopping." Not that we're spendthrifts, but I have realized that looking better to yourself is a real motivator to be good to yourself.

  15. I wish I could teach my husband something about delayed gratification! For myself, I think I strike a pretty good balance. My weakness is ebooks!! :)


Comments on posts older than 14 days are moderated as a spam precaution. So.Much.Spam.